Antonio Lauro (August 3, 1917 – April 18, 1986) was a Venezuelan musician, considered to be one of the foremost South American composers for the guitar of the 20th century.
Antonio Lauro was born in Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela. His father, an Italian immigrant, was a barber who could sing and play the guitar so he taught his son what he could, but died when Antonio was still a child. After the family moved to Caracas, Lauro pursued formal musical study (piano, composition) at the Academia de Música y Declamación, where the distinguished composer Vicente Emilio Sojo (1887–1974) was one of his teachers. In 1932 a concert was performed in Caracas by Agustín Barrios, the legendary Paraguayan guitarist and composer, which impressed the young Lauro so much (already an accomplished folk guitarist) that he was persuaded to abandon piano and violin in favour of the guitar. From 1933, Lauro studied with Raúl Borges (1888–1967) and was introduced to the traditional classical guitar repertoire. In the next decade, Borges’ pupils would also include Rodrigo Riera, José Rafael Cisneros, and Alirio Díaz. These colleagues, especially Díaz, were later responsible for unveiling Lauro’s works to an astonished international audience, introducing these unheard works to the likes of Andrés Segovia and John Williams.
Like many South Americans of his generation, Lauro was a fervent cultural nationalist, determined to rescue and celebrate his nation’s musical heritage. As a member of the Trio Cantores del Trópico in 1935-1943 (Lauro sang bass and played both guitar and cuatro), he toured nearby countries to introduce them to Venezuelan music. Lauro was particularly attracted to the myriad colonial parlour valses venezolanos (Venezuelan waltzes) created in the previous century by accomplished national composers such as Ramón Delgado Palacios (1867–1902). Unfailingly melodic, alternately wistful and brilliant, and characterized by a distinctive syncopation (created by a hemiola in which two measures of 3/4 become a single measure of 3/2), such music was precisely the sort of folkloric raw material which the likes of Smetana, Bartók or Granados had elevated to the category of national art in Europe.
A concert whose programme consisted entirely of such valses venezolanos (Venezuelan waltzes) by the distinguished Venezuelan pianist Evencio Castellanos (1914–1984) convinced Lauro that the guitar, too, should have comparable pieces in its repertory. Among his first efforts in this genre were the pieces later known as Tatiana, Andreína, and Natalia, composed sometime between 1938 and 1940; their instant popularity inspired others. In addition to his guitar pieces, Lauro composed dozens of works for orchestra, choir, piano and voice; many of which remain unpublished. He occasionally experimented with modern compositional techniques, but most of his guitar music remains essentially on the Calle Real or “main street,” an expression used by musicians of Lauro’s generation to refer to a straight and direct route, without distracting harmonic detours.
In 1951-1952, the military junta of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez imprisoned Lauro for his principled belief in democracy. Lauro later shrugged off the experience, telling his friends that prison was a normal part of life for the Venezuelan man of his generation. He had continued composing even in prison, and after his release immediately returned to performing with a pioneering professional classical guitar trio, the freshly formed “Trio Raúl Borges”. In the following decades Lauro’s compositions were published, recorded, and performed throughout the world, and his contributions to his nation’s musical life were recognized and acknowledged everywhere. Lauro was appointed professor of guitar at several distinguished schools including the Juan José Landaeta Conservatory, and was named president of the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra. In spite of his modest insistence that he was a composer rather than a performer, he was persuaded by his friends to embark upon a solo concert tour which began in Venezuela and culminated in a triumphant 1980 performance at London’s Wigmore Hall. Shortly before his death at Caracas in 1986, he was presented with the Premio Nacional de Música, his country’s highest artistic award.
The works of Antonio Lauro have long been very popular with guitarists worldwide, yet there have been few recordings devoted exclusively to him. However, several recordings by John Williams and David Russell have set Lauro’s fame in the honorific place he deserves. John Williams is quoted as having justly referred to Antonio Lauro as being the “Strauss of the guitar”. Another recording worth mentioning is, “A Tribute to Antonio Lauro” by Thomas Cronin (guitarist), recorded initially for Irish National Radio on the RTE label, gained great appeal with Venezuelans worldwide.